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Crohn's Disease:
Medical Therapy
Therapeutic regimens are based upon the severity of Crohn’s disease and the extent of gastrointestinal tract involvement. These factors may vary during the course
of the disease but accurate assessment of both is crucial in determining treatment. The severity of the disease impacts the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and risk of
future complications. The extent of disease is relevant in the determination of what kind of therapy will be most efficacious, e.g., topical or targeted therapy.
The aims of therapy include the treatment of active disease followed by maintenance of remission. Treatment should successfully suppress active inflammatory
disease medically and attempt to conserve the small bowel. Surgery should be reserved for managing complications (fistulae and abscesses) as well as treating
Symptoms such as fever, anorexia, crampy pain, and abdominal tenderness should abate within the first few days or weeks of treatment. If symptoms do not respond
promptly, the physician must suspect obstruction, abscess, or an error in diagnosis. As soon as the patient begins to improve, the corticosteroids should be
Figure 18. Therapeutic Pyramid.
Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Mild to moderate Crohn’s disease has a good response to 5-aminosalicylate-containing agents. 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) derivatives (mesalamine, mesalazine
and sulfasalazine) provide anti-inflammatory actions for connective tissue. Aminosalicylates can be targeted to sites along the gastrointestinal tract. Asacol, coated
with a pH-sensitive acrylic polymer, releases 5-ASA in the distal ileum and colon at pH of 7.0. Sulfasalazine acts as the transport mechanism to carry the 5-ASA
component to the colon tract. Pentasa is comprised of coated granules that release 5-ASA in the upper gastrointestinal tract, as well as the ileum and colon.
Aminosalicylates have multiple anti-inflammatory effects that are primarily topical (mucosal), not systemic. They also inhibit oxygen radical production and are
scavengers of free radicals. Sulfasalazine and 5-ASA preparations inhibit the function of lymphocytes, monocytes, and plasma cell production of immunoglobulins
(Figure 19).
Figure 19. Sites of 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) activity.
The side effects associated with sulfasalazine therapy are common and related to the sulfapyridine component of the drug. These side effects, which include
headache, dyspepsia, malaise, nausea, vomiting and anorexia, are often dose related with the exception of osalazine (dipentum), which can cause diarrhea. The
other 5-ASA products have very few adverse effects.
Continuous-release mesalamine (5-ASA products) has been shown to induce clinical improvement or remission. These drugs have also been evaluated for use in
maintenance therapy with inconsistent results. Benefit has been demonstrated, however, with 3 g doses in reducing endoscopicendoscopic and clinical evidence of
disease process in postoperative recurrence studies..
Antibiotic treatment has been used in Crohn’s disease despite the fact that microbial agents have not been identified as specific etiological factors. Metronidazole is
the most commonly used antibiotic and its efficacy is comparable to sulfasalazine. Metronidazole has been effective in treatment of perianal disease and has
transiently reduced recurrence of the disease process after ileal resection. Ciprofloxacin has been as effective as mesalamine in mild to moderate Crohn’s disease
and has been used in combination with metronidazole for ileal and perianal disease. Studies of combination therapies with antimycobacterial therapies in Crohn’s
disease have been inconsistent in terms of their effectiveness for active disease and maintenance of remission.
Steroid Drugs
Adrenocorticosteroids (e.g., prednisone 40–60 mg/d), in combination with other anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., sulfasalazine or mesalamine), improve symptoms in
over 75% of patients who are treated during the first 4–5 years of uncomplicated disease or during a post-resection recurrence. Patients with predominantly ileal
involvement are the most responsive (Figure 20).